Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Collapse of Civilizations and Societies: Part Two

Jared Diamond
Jared Diamond has written one of the newest books about the collapse of Civilizations in the book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”. The previous book from Diamond “Guns, Germs and Steel” has an almost reverse theme where he describes the human development the last 10.000 years. In the later book Diamond formulates a theory that builds on five factors on why societies collapse that he later tests against a number of cases where collapse have taken place. The cases range from a number of cases like the Easter Islands, the Vikings on Greenland, and The Mayans to modern examples like the Genocide in Rwanda.

Diamonds Five Factor Theory
1.) Manmade environmental destruction that affects the sustainability of a civilization.
2.) Natural climate change that affects civilizations in an negative way
3.) Hostile neighbors
4.) Decline in support from friendly allies is a major factor in combination with
5.) How the Societies respond to these problems
Its Diamonds theory that these factors in different combinations lead to the collapse of civilizations.

Diamond also views the conflict between short term and long term interest as reason for collapse when elites how makes decisions that give the short term advantages instead of think of the long term consequences. I strongly recommend the book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” for those how are interested, Diamond have also had a lecture on TED that can be seen online for free called “Why Societies Collapse”.

Joseph Tainter
Joseph Tainter has written the book “Collapse of Complex Societies” where he analyzes a large number of collapsed societies from a number of different perspectives. Tainter has also been one of the experts consulted in the TV documentary “After Armageddon” that has aired on the History Channel where a number of experts describe what could happen after a global collapse. Tainter has also appeared in the Peak Oil documentary ”Blind Spot”. Tainter has approached the phenomenon of collapse differently than Diamond. Tainter instead first presents different cases and theories concerning collapse and there after formulates he’s theory.

Tainters theory about The reason for collapse
1.) Human societies are problem solving organizations
2.) Energy is required to maintain these organizations
3.) When the complexity of a society increases so does the energy cost per inhabitant to maintain the system
4.) Investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response often reaches a point of declining marginal returns.

Both Diamond and Tainter have constructed multiple factor theories that attempts to explain the complex underlying factors that causes societies and civilizations to collapse. Neither of the scholars relies on single factors but a combination of factors. Two important elements in both theories are that civilizations have a choice to take different paths during its development. The other important factor is sustainability; a society must find a balance with the environment and resources that it depends upon.

One drastic example from Diamonds book is the Easter Islands. The Easter Island today is a wasteland with a number of big stone statues. These statues haven’t been brought to the Islands; the statues were built by the rather large civilizations of human that inhabited the Islands. The population started to build these statues and in order to build them and transport them over the Island the inhabitants had to use timber from the forest that used to cover the Island. The topsoil was removed when the forest no longer protected it from rain and there would be no more forest on the islands. Agriculture was also affected. Starvation, war and famine followed. When there was nothing left to eat the inhabitants resorted to cannibalism. Diamond draws the parallel between the island and the earth: The inhabitants couldn’t escape the Islands when it could no longer sustain their civilization and either could the human race if we would find ourselves in the same situation.

The human impact on the environment has been more and more discussed and international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol have been signed by many countries, but not by all. The last big meeting in Copenhagen did not reach the agreement that many had hoped for. Recently a number of large multinational corporations have sponsored the making of the movie “Home” where the question of sustainability and energy depends are important topics. This movie can be viewed for free online on “You tube”. So where should one look for answers? Do we look at into the past like Diamond and Tainter in order to find pieces for the puzzle? Or should one look at the closest examples that we can find like Orlov? Or should one look at the resources we depend on like Ruppert? The collapse of the society around is something that’s feared by many survivalists. Some believe that it could happen, some that it certainly will. The current situation in the world has never existed before in human history. I personally find it hard to make predictions based on historical examples. I believe that the in a long perspective we will have to find sustainable solutions for many aspects of everyday life. These factors range from environment to transport, agriculture, energy, water and many other factors.

The National Geographic Documentary
National Geographic has recently produced a documentary based on Jared Diamonds book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” that also features a number of other researchers like Joseph Tainter and psychologist Dan Gilbert. This one of the most well made documentaries about the subject and I highly recommend it for anyone how would like to learn more about the subject.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Collapse of Civilizations and Societies: Part one

From the beginning of human existence societies and civilizations have risen and come to an end. Today we can find evidence of previous advanced civilizations and their engineering feats in Rome, the Pyramids in Egypt, and the statues of the Easter Islands and in the Pyramids of the Mayans. The world that we live in today is the most complex of all human civilizations that have ever existed. Globalizations mean that we can travel around the world with jet aircraft in a matter of hours and communicate with people around the world in matter of seconds with electronic communications. Products are made in one country and shipped around the world to be sold in various markets. The world is today partly governed by International Institutions like the United Nations (UN), The World Bank and The International Monetary Fund (IMF). Regional organizations like the European Union (EU) have also become more and more important. It’s hard to imagine that our civilization could come to an end like the civilizations before us.

This series of posts will try to give a picture of the research and theories that covers this subject. What can be learned from historical events and the societies of the past? Why do civilizations collapse? When have they collapsed? One of the most recent examples of a collapse is the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Collapse of the Soviet Union changed the nature of the international system from bi-polar with two super powers during the Cold War to a uni-polar system with one remaining superpower. After the collapse many people lost their jobs, lost their savings, crime increased drastically and the access of many consumer products was reduced.

The first theory that will be presented is the theory of Super Power Collapse by Dmitry Orlov. Orlov is a Russian/American writer that has written about the collapse of Soviet Union and he’s theory about why superpowers collapse. Orlovs theory is that four factors in combination lead to this collapse.

• The first factor is the severe shortage of crude oil
• The second factor is severe and worsening trade deficit
• The third factor is a increasing military budget
• The forth factor is an increasing foreign debt. Its Orlovs theory that these factors will lead to the end of the United States as a super power. Orlov has written about this theory in the book “Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet example and American prospect”.

Orlov similar to Michael Ruppert focuses on the importance of oil and fossil fuels for the contemporary societies. Oil is important for a number of sectors like transports, electricity, food production for fertilizers, mechanized machinery, pesticides, energy for irrigation, packing of food in plastics and transports of the food. Orlov does not only present the reason for a collapse but does also present lessons that can be learned from the Soviet collapse and how ordinary people continued their lives when the political system that surrounded them collapsed. Orlov have also held lectures that can be seen for free online. One of the lectures is “Social Collapse Best Practices” from 2009 and can be seen at . Orlov writes and presents he’s message mixed with black humor and sharp analysis. I recommend both the book and the lecture for those that are interested in the subject.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Water in a Survival or Crisis Situation

Water is one of the most vital aspects in a survival or crisis situation. The human body consists of around three quarters of water and a person can only survive a few days without water. If the temperature is really high a person can die of dehydration within a shorter period of time. Safe water is something that many take for granted, but over 1 billion people around the world don’t have access to safe water and over 2 billion lacks a safe sanitation system. In some cities around the world there is no water resource in close proximity so water must be imported through pipelines. If you live in this city you may want to take this subject extra seriously. The water systems in cities are often dependent on electrical pump in order to work, in case of a black out this system often ceases to work. Natural disasters such as earthquakes can also damage the water and sanitation system. Some cities lack nearby water sources and must get there water transport to them over long distances, during a crisis situations these cities would be extra vulnerable.

A minimum 5 liters per day for first week is required, 2-3 liters will be needed for drinking and the rest for cooking. This is a minimum amount of water that a person can survive on for a short term period but after the first week you will need around 20 liters per day. Of this water around 8 liters will be needed for drinking and cooking, 5 liters for dishwashing, 5 liters for personal hygiene and the rest for medical and other uses. The hygiene is important to prevent infections. Examples of problems if water is unavailable for a long term are lice, mite and bacterial skin infections. 20 liters is what you should calculate as an absolute minimum for a long term emergency, in many industrialized countries an average citizen can use somewhere between 200-300 liters of water per day for cooking, washing, showering, bathing and flushing toilets.

Water Containers
Plastic containers in different sizes are the most common containers to use for water storage. I suggest that you get containers in different sizes with a capacity from 5 liters to 20 liters. Soda bottles can be used if you clean them, but they have a small capacity if you intend to store water for a whole family.

Water Bladers for your back pack are an excellent solution when you’re hiking, camping or hunting. These bladders let you drink while on the move. These bladders come in different sizes, normally from 2-5 liters. Camelback and Nalgene makes high quality models. There are also water bottles and water containers made from soft materials that can be folded and takes up very little space in a bag.

When you’re camping, hunting or hiking in recommend that you choose high quality water bottles and a water bladder for your backpack as a combination. I personally like the high quality water bottles from Nalgene, Klean Kantten, Camelback and SIGG, but there are many different brands that make copies that are almost as good as the originals. The Plastic bottles are often lighter than the ones made from metal. The metal bottles don’t risk melting if you happen to leave it to close to the campfire, on the downside the metal bottles can cause freeze damages to your hands if you handle them in winter climate. Use tape to cover the metal if you’re using them in cold climate. Military canteens are also a good alternative as water bottles. This can often be bought quite cheap as military surplus. The Norwegian NATO Canteens have the same shape as a normal military canteen but are steel thermoses that are excellent to carry warm water in a cold climate.

Water Storage
How much water you should storage in your home depends on a number of factors. Where do you live, how much rainfall is there, do you have access to a lake, river, reservoir, swimming pool or other sources of water nearby? One of the best solutions is of course if you live on the country and have access to your own well. A hand pump for your well is an excellent addition if you depend on electrical pumps. I suggest that you store water for a minimum of 72 hours per person in the household. That is 15 liters per person. If you live in an area that’s doesn’t have nearby water sources I suggest that you store water for a week, that’s around 35 liters per person. If you live in a very warm climate you may have to calculate the double amount. If you add bleach or water purification tablets and store the water in a dark and cold place it will store for around 6 months. Mark the containers with dates so that you know when to rotate it. Put the dates in your calendar so that you don’t forget to rotate it.

Water Purification
During a crisis situations, natural disasters and human conflict the water purifications and waste disposal systems in the society often brakes down and water can become unsafe to drink. In order to reduce the risk of drinking water that’s contaminated by disease or poisons there are methods for water purifications. I suggest that you use both some kind of filter and that you also boil the water or add water purification tablets after you filtered it if you’re not sure that the water is safe.

Water Purification Filters
There are excellent water purifications filters that can be bought on the market. These filters reduce the amount of microorganisms in the water with over 99% in some cases. These water purification filters are often very expensive however, I recommend the Katadyn Pocket. I have personally used this filter to purify water that was very dirty. Katadyn also have other more stationary solutions for homes and more professional systems that can be used in emergency situations. There is also other companies that makes water purification filters like Mountain Safety Research (MSR) and Berkey Filters. Aquamira makes a very compact emergency filter in form of a straw called Frontier that is both cheap and lightweight for packs; however this is only a short term emergency solution.

Water Purification Tablets and Bleach
Water Purification Tablets and Bleach destroys harmful microorganisms in the water but does not remove poisons and other dangers like radioactive particles, for this a water purification filter is better. Boiling water for around ten minutes will also kill microorganisms in the water. Use around half a teaspoon of bleach/per liter or water purification if the water is very unclean. Use 2 drops of bleach per liter of clean water or water purification tablets to conserve water for long term storage. There are special tablets that can be bought that reduce the taste of chlorine if you use bleach or water purification tablets.

Dehydration and Treatment
If a person becomes dehydrated the effect will reduce their ability to cope with a crisis or survival situation. Both the physical and psychological ability will be reduced. Losing just three liters of water will reduce the performance of a normal man with around 50%. Dark urine is a common sign that indicates dehydration. Other signs are nausea, headache and no saliva. It’s easier for the body to absorb water if you add some salt and sugar; this is called Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS). Add 1/2 tee spoon of salt and 6 tea spoons of sugar to 1 liter of water. Dehydration is a very serious condition, but if treated with ORS a person’s will recover quite fast. Another sign of dehydration is that the skin becomes les elastic, if you pull someone’s skin on the stomach and it doesn’t retract as fast as normal this is also a sign of dehydration.

The Crisis Situation
If you get an early warning that a crisis situation may be happening you can take a number of steps to improve you water situation before the crisis happens. It’s not always such a warning is available, some crisis situations like earthquakes and other natural disasters can take place with little or no warning. If you have a bath tub I suggest that you fill it up and cover it with plastic. You may not be able to use this water for drinking, but you can use it for hygiene, flushing toilettes or purifying it later. A WaterBob is a large water bladder designed to be put in a bathtub and filled with water that can hold over a hundred gallons. It can also be good to have a number of clean soda bottles that you can fill with water.

It’s also important that you locate potential sources of water as close to your home as possible. Collecting water is a very heavy and time consuming work. To transport water in crisis situation is very heavy work and you may need to transport it a long distance. A backpack with an external frame can be used to carry large containers. Small chariots, a mountain bike that’s loaded so that’s it balanced, a shopping cart or a bicycle cart can be good ways to transport water. Examples of potential water sources are lakes, rivers, reservoirs and swimming pools. Rainwater that’s collected can also be a good addition in a crisis situation. If you intend to use such a system I suggest that you try it out before a crisis situation.In a survival situation coffee filters can be used to filter water before the water is sterilized if you don’t have access to professional water purification filter.

[ ] Water Purification Filter
[ ] Water Purification Tablets
[ ] Bleach
[ ] Coffee Filters
[ ] Large Water Containers (Capacity between 5 and 20 liters)
[ ] Water Bladder
[ ] High Quality Water Bottle

Also see
Food, Starvation and Famine - Crisis Prepardness and Survival